March 13, 2018 by Rob Andrews
eCommerce SEO: To Improve Your Rankings, Improve Your Reputation
Last time, we introduced some of the topics that we were going to cover in this latest series on ecommerce SEO (SEO considerations vis-a-vis ecommerce sites), as well as stressed the importance of really knowing your audience. In this second article, we are going to consider specifically the importance of reputation.
Ecommerce Sites: Your Reputation is Everything
Of course, when operating any website online reputation is critical to your success — but it is even more essential when you are operating an ecommerce site. Why? Because everyone knows that the purpose of an ecomm site is to sell stuff. The entire point of the site is to make money for its owners. And although you can “dress up” an ecomm site with other features like additional helpful buying guides, in-depth information about the company, and the like, at the end of the day every visitor to such a site knows why that site exists. And any company that sells (online or offline) will need to secure, and retain, a good reputation with the public. Customers are like wisps of smoke nowadays — lose their trust (or fail to gain it in the first place) and they will vanish and will never be back.
Reputation and Rankings: Let Google Teach You
Reputation management is very critical for any ecomm site (any business website, really) as Google puts a big premium on reputation.
Fortunately, Google has very clearly spelled out what they consider important. They did so when they published, in (date), their Google Rater Guidelines. These are guidelines that Google uses to train human site reviewers, and they are regularly updated. Taken together, these rater guidelines give a pretty comprehensive answer to the question, “What types of sites does Google find valuable – that they believe that site visitors will find valuable.” Several sections of these guidelines are especially applicable to reputation:
In Google’s Eyes, What Is a Site With a “Positive Reputation”?
Here is section 4.4 dealing specifically with “positive reputation”:
“4.4 Positive Reputation
Reputation is an important criteria when using the High rating, and informs the EAT of the page. While a page can merit the High rating with no reputation, the High rating cannot be used for any website that has a convincing negative reputation. Remember that when doing research, make sure to consider the reasons behind a negative rating and not just the rating itself.”
Let’s take a moment and unpack a few things. First of all, note the acronym “EAT.” This is Googlespeak for expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness. The very next paragraph (4.5) gives us more information on EAT:
“4.5 A High Level of Expertise/Authoritativeness/Trustworthiness (EAT)
High quality pages and websites need enough expertise to be authoritative and trustworthy on their topic. Remember that there are “expert” websites of all types, even gossip websites, fashion websites, humor websites, forum and Q&A pages, etc. In fact, some types of information are found almost exclusively on forums and discussions, where a community of experts can provide valuable perspectives on specific topics.
Think about the topic of the page. What kind of expertise is required for the page to achieve its purpose well? The standard for expertise depends on the topic of the page. For example, high quality news articles and information pages on scientific topics should represent established scientific consensus where such consensus exists.”
Going back to section 4.4, note the statement that “Reputation is an important criteria when using the High rating, and informs the EAT of the page. While a page can merit the High rating with no reputation, the High rating cannot be used for any website that has a convincing negative reputation…”
This is important! There is no demerit (in Google’s eyes) if your page/site has no reputation, but if it has “a convincing negative reputation” the site would never qualify for a “high” rating overall.
Interestingly, what follows further on are some examples (3) of some sites that Google calls “shopping sites” that would qualify for a “High” rating.
Shopping site 1: “The purpose of this page is to allow users to buy a school backpack. The page provides a lot of different backpack options, and some of them have user reviews.
This is a well known, reputable merchant, with detailed Customer Service information on the site.”
Established sites have the advantage here – being well-known and “reputable.” And detailed CS information clinches the deal.
Shopping site 2: “This company sells its own line of high end, fashionable baby and children’s furniture and accessories. It has a positive reputation as well as expertise in these specific types of goods. Many products sold on the site are unique to this company.”
This immediately suggests a very important consideration for ecomm sites – Don’t set up your ecomm site to promote the same products that are already available on a multitude of other sites. And if you are able to exclusively sell products that you manufacture (or that others manufacture for you under an exclusive license) strongly consider becoming the sole sales outlet for that merchandise.
Shopping site 3: “There is a very large quantity of MC on this page. Note that the tabs on the page lead to even more information, including many customer reviews. The tabs should be considered part of the MC.” (Note: “MC” = Main (site) Content)
It is very instructive to note the “High Quality Characteristics” that Google identifies for this page and site:
- “A satisfying or comprehensive amount of very high quality MC.”
- “High E-A-T for the purpose of the page.”
- “Positive reputation (website)”
With all of the above examples, the inferred reputation of the page, site and business as a whole were crucial to Google giving these sites a High rating.
What Are Your Credentials? Expertise and Reputation
Again, here’s another excerpt from the Google site rater guidelines:
“5.3 Very High Level of EAT
Highest quality pages and websites have a very high level of expertise or are highly authoritative or highly trustworthy.
Formal expertise is important for topics such as medical, financial, or legal advice. Expertise may be less formal for topics such as recipes or humor. An expert page on cooking may be a page on a professional chef’s website, or it may be someone who posts popular cooking videos on YouTube. Please value life experience and “everyday expertise.” For some topics, the most expert sources of information are ordinary people sharing their life experiences on personal blogs, forums, reviews, discussions, etc.
Think about what expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness mean for the topic of the page. Who are the experts? What makes a source trustworthy for the topic? What makes a website highly authoritative for the topic?”
Expertise is something that your website should demonstrate at every turn. How do you do that if you are running an ecomm site?
One obvious way, if you are selling products that are unique to your business, is to present photos and content that presents your expertise in manufacturing, your investment in time and money spent in development, testing and refining your products, professional certifications, awards and recognitions, etc.
Even without all the above, you can still achieve a bit of authority if you will try to secure product reviews from people that are professionals. For example, if you are selling an electric rotary saw, you could have a review (or several) from carpenters. If you are selling a unique bathroom shower fixture, reviews from plumbers would be appropriate. Make sure that these reviewers are named, and also that their background, title, business name, etc. are mentioned – bits of information that make the case that these people are knowledgeable professionals, and that they are giving your products a hearty endorsement.
But did you catch the statement “…For some topics, the most expert sources of information are ordinary people sharing their life experiences…”? This means that there is still a place for reviews from “John Q. Public-at-Large.”
And if you are selling anything medically-related (supplements, medical equipment, special clothing, personal hygiene and other care supplies for the elderly and ill, etc.) you should strive to get authority reviews and other information from medical professionals — if not a medical doctor, then perhaps a nurse, or even a professional care aide. If you are selling kitchen equipment, why not a review from a local chef, restauranteur, or culinary school student?
What To Avoid: Low-Quality Pages and Reputation
Here’s another excerpt that deals with the flip side: What the gods of Google consider to “low quality”:
“6.0 Low Quality Pages
Low quality pages are unsatisfying or lacking in some element that prevents them from achieving their purpose well. These pages lack expertise or are not very trustworthy/authoritative for the purpose of the page.
If a page has one of the following characteristics, the Low rating is usually appropriate:
- The author of the page or website does not have enough expertise for the topic of the page and/or the website is not trustworthy or authoritative for the topic. In other words, the page/website is lacking EAT.
- The quality of the MC is low.
- There is an unsatisfying amount of MC for the purpose of the page.
- MC is present, but difficult to use due to distracting/disruptive/misleading Ads, other content/features, etc.
- There is an unsatisfying amount of website information for the purpose of the website (no good reason for anonymity).
- The website has a negative reputation.”
Note that this is a “one strike and you are out” checklist – fail any ONE of the above and it’s game over for your site. And notice that a “negative reputation” is on the radar!
BTW, when thinking about authority, consider who is writing your detailed reviews – who are they? Is their name there? Is there any information there about that person’s background or qualifications to write such a review, buying guide, comparison analysis, etc.?
Finally, not just the amount — having enough — content is important, but also its quality. And a poor site experience, overloaded with modals and ads everywhere, and no signs that this is a “real” website (About Us, contact pages, comments, etc.) must be dealt with if you want to avoid the low-quality stigma (and consequent low(er) ranking)
The Lowest of The Low: Negative Ratings and Reputation
Let me close with this snippet (emphasis mine, see detailed comments below):
“6.4 Negative Reputation
Reputation research is required for all PQ rating tasks unless you have previously researched the reputation of the website. Extremely negative, malicious, or financially fraudulent reputation information should result in a Lowest rating. Credible negative (though not malicious or financially fraudulent) reputation is a reason for a Low rating, especially for a YMYL page.
Please exercise care when researching the reputation of businesses. Most businesses have some negative reviews, especially for customer service. Try to find as many reviews and ratings as possible and read the details of negative reviews and low ratings before inferring that the business has a negative reputation.
Reputation research is also critical for information pages and news websites, particularly those on YMYL topics. The lack of any reputation information at all for a YMYL website may be a reason for a Low rating.
Important: Negative reputation is sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating. Evidence of truly malicious or fraudulent behavior warrants the Lowest rating.”
Again, and again, Google is telling us here that reputation is everything. You need to deal with accusations and statements that are “extremely negative,” or which contain accusations that you/your staff have been “malicious” in customer interactions, or that your business has been “financially fraudulent” — and deal with them immediately. Google understands that “most businesses have some negative reviews” but don’t those outweigh the positive ones!
A YMYL (your money or your life) website without any reputation out there at all “may be a reason for a Low rating.” That means, prior to website launch, get your product reviews lined up – or very shortly thereafter. And, oh — Google considers that a “shopping” website is a YMYL site (see section 2.3 for more details on categories of YMYL websites).